Oxford professor Alexander Betts presents a radical idea wherein he shows how refugees can result in an economic boon for host countries.
In 2015, when Angela Merkel triumphantly declared “Wir schaffen dass” or “We will manage”, it was intended to be a war cry to unite her fellow countrymen to accept her proposal to host close to a million refugees in a single year. Equally, as leader of Europe’s most powerful economy, it was a call to action to the leaders of her fellow EU member states to follow suit. Since then Merkel has come under intense pressure from the far-right in her own country in the aftermath of terrorist attacks on German soil and across Europe and as a result, a year on, her pleas have been silenced even though the refugee’s plight worsens.
However, there are a handful of powerful academic voices that are talking above the cacophony. Chief among them is Alexander Betts, a professor at Oxford University and Director of the Refugees Studies Centre at the university. Betts who has studied the economics and politics of refugee crisis’ in Africa, Middle East and more recently in Europe, is quick to point out the dichotomy in the way the West preaches about human rights and the way it actually deals with situations like migration. “For a long time, there has been an organised hypocrisy in the way the West responds to refugees. On the one hand, states have signed up to refugee conventions and made commitments to respect the human rights of all migrants. On the other, they’re engaged in a competition to deter and avoid responsibility for taking in refugees.” This has been magnified in the on-going refugee crisis that began in 2015 in Europe he notes, before explaining that, “what has been framed as a crisis of numbers is much more a crisis of politics”.
To reinforce his point as to how Europe has bundled the handling of the crisis, he cites the example of countries like Turkey that at present host 2.6 million refugees – more than any country in the world – and Lebanon who are hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees. In comparison, the far richer European Union comprising of 28 states were required to absorb a million asylum seekers, but failed.
What makes Betts voice louder than others who have waved the hypocrisy flag in the past is that he isn’t making his pitch merely on humanitarian grounds — he’s instead showing that host nations stand to significantly benefit their own economies by giving asylum to refugee seekers, which goes hand-in hand with socio-economic freedom. He refers to Kampala in Uganda, the subject of his new book, Refugee Economies: Forced Displacement and Development, where 21 per cent of refugees run a business that employs at least one other person. Interestingly, of those that are employed, 40 per cent are Ugandan nationals. In this scenario, refugees are creating employment opportunities right within their host countries.
SOURCE: Godinho, Varun. “Are Refugees Good for the Economy?” Global Citizen website, 19 February 2017